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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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1967 – A Journey to Remember


He thought of the first time he had flown. What a godawful experience that had been.

They had boarded the KLM flight in Amsterdam for the long trip to Idlewild Airport in New York. “They” included his father, older sister, himself, two stepbrothers, and his stepmother. It was 1957, and he was seven. The family had emigrated to the Netherlands in the early ‘50s, during the throes of the Indonesian revolution. Now, they were going to a new country. 

He had been sick during the flight. Sitting with his stepmother at the rear of the plane, the ‘rock and roll,’ violent up and down motion made him horribly sick. His stepmother’s attempts to comfort him did little. The stewardess had been kind, but nothing had helped.

I must have made everyone on that flight miserable, he thought. A slight smile crossed his face. This time will be different.

He peered out of the window as the plane made its final approach to Seattle International. He watched the dark green rain-soaked terrain as the aircraft descended quickly. It landed with a loud squishy thud; wheels glad to touch earth once again. 

Retrieving his duffle bag at Baggage Claim, he boarded the drab olive-colored bus idling outside the terminal. The air was cool, the ground wet from the recent storm. 

Spotting an empty seat, he threw his bag onto it. Turning to the soldier across the aisle, he remarked, “No wonder it’s so green around here. It must rain constantly.”

The soldier looked at him. “Yeah,” came the flat response. A group of soldiers had queued to board the bus with their bags. Their excitement quickly diminished as an E-6 sergeant climbed aboard.

“Listen up, ladies!” he bellowed. “Once we get these yahoos aboard, you’ll leave for Fort Lewis. There, you will disembark, take your bags to your quarters, and head for the mess hall for dinner. Tomorrow, you in-process after breakfast and then be on your way. Good luck!” The sergeant disembarked. 

The doors closed with a pneumatic swish. A steady, mournful rain accompanied the men as they made the hour-long drive. The atmosphere remained subdued, each man lost in his own thoughts, the silence occasionally interrupted by the engine’s noise as the driver shifted through the gears.

Yeah, it sure is wet out there, the boy mused. At their destination, they were met by another non-commissioned officer. Directing them to their barracks to deposit their bags, he accompanied the men to the mess hall. Here too, the atmosphere was subdued. Everyone knows where we’re going tomorrow.

The next afternoon, the men bussed to McChord Air Force Base to board the chartered World Airways flight. They wore their summer khakis for the long flight. Several young, vivacious stewardesses welcomed the men aboard.

Gazing around the cabin as he made his way to his assigned seat, the boy noted several veterans. Most were E-5 or E-6 non-commissioned officers whose chests bore the recognizable service and campaign ribbons. Several wore the blue shoulder cord signifying ‘Infantry.’ He wore the red cord signifying ‘Medical’ personnel. A few men shouted to comrades they recognized from previous assignments. Mostly a hushed murmur hung in the air as the men settled in their seats.

One of the men who settled in the seat in front of the boy turned to him and said, “Hey, you were in my training company at Fort Sam!”

“You’re right,” the boy replied.

“I can’t believe they’re sending me to Vietnam!” the man in front complained loudly. “They can’t do this! I’m not a citizen!” 

“Neither am I,” the boy replied. “Nothing you can do about it now.”

The mandatory flight announcements began, and the soldier in front stopped complaining. During a quick deplaning in Japan, the boy avoided the soldier. 

They landed uneventfully at Cam Rahn Bay. As the boy stepped through the cabin door, the heat and humidity took his breath away. He saw the complaining soldier ahead of him, slowly descending onto the tarmac. Their year in an unfriendly and unknown territory had begun. He never saw the soldier again.

Recalling some of his readings in high school about war, he thought. We are fodder, easily replaceable. Welcome to Vietnam.

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